CSU Los Angeles -- November 14, 2003
State L.A.'s Spinal Cord Injury and Exercise Research Project Provides
Hope Through Gait Training
Before Andrea Jennings (Pasadena resident) decided to participate in
California State University, Los Angeles’ Spinal Cord Injury and
Exercise Research (SCIER) project this summer, she was told by her doctors
that she would never again walk on her own.
Within one month, however, Jennings was walking with minimal assistance
using a novel rehabilitation system—“a really remarkable
outcome,” according to Ray de Leon (Glendale resident), the CSULA
faculty member who along with kinesiology professors Jesus Dominguez
(Santa Clarita resident) and Tamar Semerjian (Los Angeles resident)
oversee the SCIER project.
Following a car accident in October 2000, in which she suffered both
spinal cord and brain injury, Jennings was unwilling to settle for dependency
on a leg brace or power wheelchair. After more than two years of seeing
a battery of doctors, Jennings says she was ready to try anything.
In 2003, Jennings heard about the SCIER project at Cal State L.A. through
a friend, Eve-Lynn Brown (Pasadena resident), one of several CSULA students
working on the project. Jennings didn’t inquire about the project,
however, until her 14-year-old daughter enrolled at Cal State L.A. to
take courses for college credit. What happened after that astonished
both Jennings and CSULA researchers alike.
On July 1, three Cal State L.A. SCIER Fellows—specially trained
to conduct this new therapy by experts—began to rehabilitate Jennings
using a state-of-the-art gait-training machine by Robomedica, Inc. “This
is one of the machines that Christopher Reeves used!” enthuses
Robomedica, Inc.’s <www.robomedica.com> body weight support
system is among the company’s first products based on research
developed at UCLA and UC Irvine. It is designed for a variety of patient
populations including those with neural impairments, orthopedic injuries
and degenerative diseases.
The Robomedica, Inc. gait-training machine supports Jenning’s
body weight with a harness above a treadmill. At the same time, the
student “step trainers”—Chung Lim (Monterey Park resident),
Suzanne Montague (Burbank resident) and Troy Young (Anaheim resident)—assist
Jenning’s legs with sensory cues that simulate walking motion
and rhythm, helping her to relearn swing and stance (the two phases
of walking). The computerized apparatus continually adjusts the amount
of support she receives during stepping, and allows the SCIER team to
modify the treadmill speed and body weight support as she progresses
in her therapy.
De Leon, the project’s principal investigator, notes, “It
was amazing! Her recovery is a testament not only to her hard work and
determination, but also to the project’s dedicated Cal State L.A.
student fellows who have worked intensely with her this summer.”
Jennings attributes much of her recovery to a strong faith in God, but
she also can’t stop praising the Cal State L.A. SCIER Fellows,
professors, and the designers of the gait-training equipment. Says Jennings,
“I want to get this message of hope out to as many people with
spinal cord injury as possible, to let them know there is a place they
can go to get help. You don’t have to be a movie star to get this
kind of treatment.”
In addition to participating in the SCIER project, Jennings is also
enrolled in Kinesiology 155, a course open to anyone who needs assistance
in exercising. Students in the class have access to adaptive exercise
equipments at the University’s Mobility Training Center. Here,
kinesiology student Ivanova Guillen (Los Angeles resident) has been
working with Jennings on rehabilitating her left arm by applying sensory
and active range motion exercises.
With renewed aspirations, Jennings recently started a non-profit organization
to increase public awareness about the needs of people with disabilities
and to raise self-esteem for newly injured or diagnosed “differently-abled”
Aiming to specialize in disability and housing accessibility issues,
Jennings is planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political
science with an option in public administration at Cal State L.A. At
the moment, however, her focus is to continue with her therapy and exercises
and to get the word out about the benefits of the Cal State L.A. SCIER
project and the gait-training machine.
With Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center as the lead institution,
the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center was developed as a part
of a five-year, $4.5 million grant project funded by the National Institute
on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)—a component
of the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and
Rehabilitative Services. Cal State L.A.’s project, Spinal Cord
Injury and Exercise Research (SCIER), which started in November, 2002,
focused on improving exercise devices for individuals with SCI and also
improving accessibility to exercise for these individuals.
Besides providing a place for individuals who need special therapy and
access to adaptive exercise equipment, principal investigator Ray de
Leon explains, “The SCIER project provides an opportunity for
Cal State L.A. students to do real hands-on research. For this first
year, we recruited seven student fellows who are kinesiology undergraduate
and graduate students. They spent the first quarter learning to use
special exercise devices and the next quarter becoming proficient at
conducting the therapies. During late spring through the summer, these
student fellows then work directly on project participants with gait-training
therapy. We’ve provided the specialized rehab training to about
four participants so far, and there are already about a dozen lined
up for next quarter.”
The co-principal investigators of CSULA’s project include Tamar
Semerjian and Jesus Dominguez, assistant professors of kinesiology.
Samuel Landsberger, one of two program directors for the SCIER, is a
faculty member in kinesiology and engineering at Cal State L.A. Artin
Davidian is the project manager and engineer.
For more information on how to support or participate in the SCIER project,
call (323) 343-5328.
CONTACT: Carol Selkin, Media Relations Director, (323)